Can thinking properly prevent violence?

Is war ever necessary? I believe, yes.

When you want to eat my candy, and I want to eat my own candy, and I have only one candy, there is no option but war. I other words, when our intentions are mutually exclusive, war has to take place.

Let me explain.

Thinking is painful business. That’s why most of us prefer not to engage in it. The human brain is only 2% of our body weight, but uses 20% of our energy. The human body is designed to optimise and conserve energy. That is why we have habits, rituals, mental models and value systems. They help us to optimise the energy required to actually think properly and take decisions. Buts lets face it, we are also just sheer lazy. And to top it, no one every really taught us to think for ourselves.

We live in a world ruled by sentiments and emotions. Star Trek rules and Star Wars sucks. That is bound to rouse some emotions! We have strong opinions on divisive topics like religion, politics and lifestyles. Social media allows us to express and spread our opinions on the tap of a screen. Add to that the excess energy required to think effectively, and you have a potent mix. The result is that we end up forming our opinions sometimes based on our own prejudices, our conveniences, on the opinions of people we trust, or sometimes and very dangerously, just the loudest voice on social media.

I’m going how we think with the help of four statements.

Statement 1: The human gut does not produce the particular enzyme that is required to convert plant cellulose into protein. The gut of elephants and giraffe produces this enzyme and hence they can eat leaves and yet have very muscular bodies.

This is a statement of fact. It need not really be debated. It can be verified through observation and experimentation.

Statement 2: Today’s lifestyles are different from prehistoric humans and hence we should prefer vegetarian food.

This one is a combination of fact (the first part of the statement) and an opinion on that fact. An opinion is my perspective on a fact. The fact cannot be debated but the opinion may vary from person to person.

Statement 3: I believe humans are meant to eat meat. That is the way nature meant it.

Ooh, this one is a dangerous. No fact, only opinion. And when the opinion is very strong, it becomes a belief. Beliefs are powerful. And sometimes dangerous.

Betrand Russell is known to have said "I would never die for my beliefs because I might be wrong!"

So, how to think?

How to handle divisive and sensitive issues without ending up in chaos and often enough, violence?

No, the answer is not to focus only on facts. That is impossible for us human beings. Even when we speak a fact, our tone of voice, our expression, our body language will reveal an opinion. Even if you don’t have one, your listener will perceive an opinion based on their own prejudices. That is a cause for many a domestic dispute! "Are you being sarcastic?" You’ve heard that before. So, "lets only talk facts" is not an option at all.

Opinions are important. We need to take a stand or a position on important topics that affect us and the world around us. Being neutral is no good. In fact too many good people being neutral and remaining silent is the cause of much chaos and disorder in the world around us.

This brings us to the next statement.

Statement 4: I wish to ensure that animals have rights.

Hmm, now what is this one? Is it a fact, opinion or a belief?

The answer is "none of the above". This is a very special statement. It is a statement of intention. Facts, opinions and beliefs are rooted in the past. Intentions are always about the future.

When I say that animals must have rights, and hence lets be vegetarian, it opens up possibilities of discussion.

If the counter intention is that "Humans must be free to choose to enjoy the taste of meat", then there is still scope for discussion. There is still scope to work together. It may be possible to seek solutions that enable humans to enjoy the taste of meat, and for animals to be treated with rights. Most ancient societies had customs that enabled this. More importantly there the possibility to find innovate solutions that don’t involve killing of animals at all.

But if the counter intention is "Animals must be treated like economic products and have no rights", or "Humans must have the right to kill animals at will and in any condition", then we have a problem. Your and my intentions are mutually exclusive.

War will have to be fought. It may be a war or words, a legal war, or sometimes in the worst case, a war of swords, but there will need to be a war.

But war can be avoided. In the words of my friend Dhruv Gupta, when we can work together to co-create our intentions, and then seek facts and opinions to support them, we can resolve any and every conflict the world faces.

This kind of ‘co-creation’ requires us to have the courage to state our intent clearly and explicitly, the discipline to think with well considered facts and opinions, and the humility to co-create our intentions with our adversaries. It requires both parties to work this way. Else, war is inevitable.

Let’s learn how to think.